Kevin Drum - August 2008

Quotes of the Day

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 1:09 PM EDT

QUOTES OF THE DAY....George Bush on his former ambassador to the UN, neocon lunatic John Bolton:

"Let me just say from the outset that I don't consider Bolton credible."

I don't often agree with President Bush, but credit where it's due: when he's right, he's right. Next up is NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher, commenting on the number of high-profile no-shows for this week's Republican convention:

"It's probably easier to say who is attending."

But why? Hurricane Gustav? Campaigning duties? Nope: "The party brand is in tatters," said [a Republican] aide. "The president is highly unpopular. There doesn't seem to be much excitement around the candidate. And there's a real fear of being tagged with the Republican label and being seen with George Bush."

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Palin's Governing Style

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 12:51 PM EDT

PALIN'S GOVERNING STYLE....We all know that after she became governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin sold the executive jet on eBay and fired the chef at the governor's mansion. But how is she at actually governing? Here's Anchorage Daily News reporter Gregg Erickson:

It is clear that she has not paid much attention to the nitty-gritty unglamorous work of government, of gaining consensus, and making difficult compromises. She seems to be of the view that politics should be all rather simple....The Republican chair of the Alaska State House Finance budget subcommittee on Heath and Medicaid says he can't find anyone in Palin's executive office who cares about helping bring that budget under control. He is furious with her about that.

That would be Republican Mike Hawker, who confirms his opinion of Palin to the LA Times:

"Her administration had the appearance of paying absolutely no attention to any of the rest of the unglamorous side of government," said Hawker, "whether it be dealing with human services, public services, highways, all the routine aspects."

And Democrats agree! Here's state senator Hollis French:

French faulted Palin for not helping the Legislature pass a bill to raise the benefits threshhold for children and pregnant women from 175% of the poverty level to 200%. (Most states set them at 200% to 250%.) "She said she wanted to help us raise it," French said, "but couldn't be bothered to do anything in the closing days of the Legislature, when she could have helped it through."

So in addition to not having much curiosity or interest in political affairs outside of Alaska, she apparently doesn't have much curiosity or interest in political affairs inside Alaska either. Sounds like the perfect successor to W. No wonder McCain fell in love with her.

The Latest From Iraq

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 1:48 AM EDT

THE LATEST FROM IRAQ....Coming up for air from Palin-mania, I see that there are still other things going on in the rest of the world. For example:

At the "make-or-break" stage of talks with the U.S. on the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has swept aside his negotiating team and replaced it with three of his closest aides, a reshuffle that some Iraqi officials warn risks sabotaging the agreement....In disclosing the switch to the Los Angeles Times this weekend, a senior Iraqi official close to Maliki also suggested that the two sides remained deadlocked on key issues.

....The latest version of the agreement, which was read to The Times by the Maliki confidant, says all U.S. forces will leave Iraq by the end of 2011, unless Iraq requests otherwise. It also says the Americans will withdraw from cities in June 2009, unless the Iraqis ask them to stay.

The new wording is a departure from the White House's insistence on a conditions-based timeline for a pullout. Under the new language, Iraq, not the U.S. military, decides when the troops will leave. U.S. officials have gone back to Washington to consult on the language, the Maliki confidant said.

Read the whole thing to get the rest of the story. I continue to predict that an agreement will eventually be reached, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's more on Maliki's terms than on ours.

Cynical

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 12:53 AM EDT

CYNICAL....Tyler Cowen has more cautionary advice about attacks on Sarah Palin:

There is one biographical fact about Palin's life that the critics (Drum, DeLong, Yglesias, Klein, Sullivan and Kleiman are among the ones I read) are hardly touching upon. I mean her decision to have a Downs child instead of an abortion. This is the fact about her life and it will be viewed as such from now through November and perhaps beyond.

If only for this reason, she will be seen as a candidate who stands on principle. I don't think the critics are sufficiently appreciating how tired the American people are of candidates who say one thing and do another and who abandon their principles at the first provocation. This is a deep and very strong current and it runs through virtually every group of American political voters. Because of her decision to have a Downs child, many voters will not view Sarah Palin in a cynical light, no matter what the critics say. No story about firing a state trooper will break that seal.

But I think this misses the point. Most of the critics aren't accusing Palin of being cynical, they're accusing McCain of being cynical. Even conservatives see this. For example, conservative Rick Brookhiser: "Either McCain thinks the war on terror isn't serious, or he thinks the vice-presidency isn't." Or conservative David Frum: "The Palin choice looks cynical. The wires are showing." Or conservative Ramesh Ponnuru: "Can anyone say with a straight face that Palin would have gotten picked if she were a man?"

The primary criticism of Palin, conversely, is that we simply don't know much of anything about her. She has virtually no political track record; no settled views on much of anything other than God, guns, gays, and ANWR; and seemingly not even any interest in national or international issues before last Friday morning. She's just flatly not prepared for the job.

Now, I know that conservatives are gleefully pointing out that Obama supporters can hardly complain about someone else having a thin resume, but this is special pleading at best and sophistry at worst — or maybe just willful blindness. Not only does Obama have more relevant experience in fact, but after campaigning nonstop for the past 18 months he also has it in the eyes of the public. Palin just doesn't, and all the smart alec jokes in the world aren't going to change that.

That said, it's true that liberals need to be careful about being too rabid in their criticisms of Palin. She's appealing, sensible sounding, familiar, and tough enough to win a governor's race against entrenched opposition. Condescension toward her will not go over well. See M. LeBlanc for more on this.

And, of course, a caveat: my political instincts are no great shakes. Cynical choice or not, maybe Palin will beat the odds and not commit any monumental gaffes over the next couple of months. If she manages that, and to the extent that running mates make a difference in the first place, maybe her underlying character will be a net bonus for McCain. I don't think that will be the case, but if I'm wrong it wouldn't be the first time.

Football!

| Sat Aug. 30, 2008 9:02 PM EDT

FOOTBALL!....I'll bet they don't talk college football much over on the main blog, do they? So let's take care of that right now. First up: Ohio State beat the mighty Youngstown State Penguins today 43-0. Meanwhile, 300 miles away, in a game with real teams playing on both sides of the ball, USC walloped Virginia 52-7. In two weeks the winners play in Los Angeles. I'll take the Trojans by a couple of touchdowns. Anyone care to disagree?

And hey — before you complain, this is better than yet another Sarah Palin thread, isn't it? Well? Isn't it?

Palin's Kids

| Sat Aug. 30, 2008 5:30 PM EDT

PALIN'S KIDS....MoJo's co-editor Monika Bauerlein is a little annoyed at some of the criticism being thrown Sarah Palin's way:

I have three kids, my youngest is three months older than Palin's, and that isn't stopping me from doing my job. Nor is it stopping Clara, my co-editor, who has a new baby....

Too many women have been patronized out of jobs they wanted with pseudo-considerate treacle like "I thought your priority right now was your family." It's happened to friends of mine; it's happened to me; if you have ovaries, chances are pretty good it has happened or will happen to you. That's the reality of living in post-women's lib America, and that's why one part of me is heartened by the Palin pick. People may find lots of reasons why she shouldn't be in the White House — but at least, having little kids didn't put her out of the running in the first place. And for that, I have to confess, I'm grateful to John McCain.

Agreed. There are loads of reasons to criticize McCain's choice of Palin, and I suspect that as Alaskans start to weigh in we're going to uncover even more. But being the mother of five children isn't one of them. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to get a clue.

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Sarah Palin and Taxes

| Sat Aug. 30, 2008 2:19 PM EDT

SARAH PALIN AND TAXES....Let's talk policy! And to make it even more interesting, let's talk tax policy!

So here's an interesting thing about Alaska governor Sarah Palin: she's a tax raiser. Last September she proposed a new state tax plan called ACES, and by November she had successfully pushed it through the Alaska legislature in a special session. ACES had two goals. First, it replaced a year-old plan called PPT that was mired in corruption and was widely distrusted. No problem there. Second, it was designed to increase revenue. PPT had raised revenues by $1 billion, but that was still less than everyone expected. So Palin's plan increased that by another $700 million.

But it gets even more interesting. ACES, of course, is a tax on the oil industry, since that's how the rugged individualists up north fund themselves. (In addition to massive infusions of federal cash, that is.) And it had three basic provisions:

  • An increase in the basic tax rate on oil company profits from 22.5% to 25%.

  • A windfall profits provision. When oil prices went over $50/barrel or so, the tax rate would rise 0.2% for each dollar.

  • A tax floor. If oil prices fell below about $40/barrel, oil companies would still have to pay 10% of the gross price of the crude they produce.

Palin was especially dedicated to the windfall profits provision, or "progressiveness," as she calls it. For example, here's an op-ed she wrote about how the various pieces of her plan work together:

Progressiveness is the additional share we capture when oil prices and profits are high. I chose to set the progressiveness knob [i.e., the windfall profits tax] at a relatively low level in exchange for more security when prices are low. We accomplished this through a gross tax floor at our legacy fields. If the Legislature chooses to discard that floor, then the knob on progressiveness needs to be set higher — to make sure we capture a more equitable share when prices are high and profits extraordinary.

In the end, the Alaska legislature took Palin's plan and ran with it. The final version twiddled the knobs and ended up producing not $700 million in additional revenue, but more like $2 billion or so. Palin proclaimed herself delighted with the result and said she had no problem with signing an even bigger tax increase than she had originally proposed: "When I rolled [ACES] out," she said after the final version passed, "I had said I was so anxious to work with lawmakers to make this even better."

Now here's the thing: as near as I can tell, Palin actually did a pretty decent job of working with a fractured state legislature to produce a new tax regime in a short period of time. But a tax hike is a tax hike. Here, for example, is the reaction of cranky conservative Anchorage talk show host Dan Fagan:

Most folks think the oil industry with its so-called obscene profits can absorb a 2 1/2 percent increase in taxes. But even the 2 1/2 percent rate increase the media focus on, represents a 10 percent hike in the 22.5 percent production tax. But there is so much more.

Here's what most who rely on the mainstream media for information would be surprised to know. The governor's tax represents a 400 percent increase in the amount of production taxes paid. Four hundred percent increase, not 2 1/2.

....But where the Palin money grab really affects future investment is with the marginal tax rate. At today's oil price, every new dollar the industry earns in our state, the government takes a mind-boggling 85 percent.

Etc. If Palin were a Democrat, this is the kind of jeremiad you'd be hearing from Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist, but instead of talk about looting American businesses and destroying incentives to invest, we get crickets. Norquist doesn't even mention taxes here and Limbaugh, who's been talking up Palin for a while, doesn't either. "Babies, guns, Jesus. Hot damn!" was his reaction yesterday.

So: one of the first things Palin did after she took office was to propose a big tax increase that included a windfall profits tax on the oil industry. I don't have a big problem with that, and I'm sure the McCain campaign will eventually treat us all to a blizzard of spin about why her tax increase wasn't really a tax increase. But facts are stubborn things, and somebody really ought to poke the conservative anti-tax intelligentsia a little harder about how they feel about this. Grover? Rush? Newt? Sean?

UPDATE: It turns out there's more! "Hockey mom" Sarah Palin, when she was mayor of Wasilla, was the prime advocate for a sales tax increase to fund a huge new sports complex there. What's more, she bungled the land acquisition, which meant the city ended up paying $1.7 million for the land instead of the planned $146,000. That's fiscal conservatism we can believe in!

Palin on the Issues

| Sat Aug. 30, 2008 12:43 AM EDT

PALIN ON THE ISSUES....Tyler Cowen believes that liberals are making a mistake if they harp too much on Sarah Palin's lack of experience on the public stage. Presumably, we should instead be targeting her on the issues. I don't think I agree with this, but there's certainly no harm in also targeting her on the issues. So here are Sarah Palin's stands on seven issues:

  1. Joe Klein on taxes: Palin exploded her state's coffers by imposing a windfall profits tax on the oil companies...sort of — no, exactly — like the proposal Barack Obama has made and John McCain has attacked. Apparently, she also supported the Bridge to Nowhere, despite her disclaimer at today's event. So how does McCain explain putting a tax-raising porker on his ticket?

  2. Alaska native Charles Wohlforth on the Troopergate scandal: In July, Palin fired the beloved commissioner of Public Safety, Walt Monegan, without meaningful explanation. Monegan said he had resisted administration pressure to fire a State Trooper who was in a bitter child custody battle with Palin's sister. Palin first denied the pressure, then released evidence, including a recorded phone call, that backed up Monegan's story. The legislature, which isn't exactly Palin-friendly, hired an ex-prosecutor to investigate. More here.

  3. Sarah Palin on creationism vs. evolution in public schools: I am a proponent of teaching both. And, you know, I say this, too, as the daughter of a science teacher. Growing up with being so privileged and blessed to be given a lot of information on, on both sides of the subject — creationism and evolution. It's been a healthy foundation for me. But don't be afraid of information and let kids debate both sides.

  4. Anchorage Daily News reporter Tom Kizzia on social issues: A significant part of Palin's base of support lies among social and Christian conservatives. Her positions on social issues emerged slowly during the campaign: on abortion (should be banned for anything other than saving the life of the mother), stem cell research (opposed), physician-assisted suicide (opposed), creationism (should be discussed in schools), state health benefits for same-sex partners (opposed, and supports a constitutional amendment to bar them).

  5. Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope on big oil: Palin herself told Roll Call earlier this week, "When I look every day, the big oil company's building is right out there next to me, and it's quite a reminder that we should have mutually beneficial relationships with the oil industry." No one is closer to the the oil industry than Governor Palin. Along with her support for drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and off our coasts, she also opposes a windfall profit tax on the richest oil companies. Under her leadership, Alaska has sued the federal governent for considering listing the Polar Bear as a threatened species even though global warming threatens its very existence.

  6. Sarah Palin on global warming: A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.

  7. Politico's Glenn Thrush on spending: Palin, who portrays herself as a fiscal conservative, racked up nearly $20 million in long-term debt as mayor of the tiny town of Wasilla — that amounts to $3,000 per resident. She argues that the debt was needed to fund improvements.

Palin's lack of public experience means that her views on most issues are actually unknown, which makes this exercise sort of difficult. But I'm sure we'll be finding out much, much more about Palin in the days and weeks to come. Stay tuned.

Sarah Palin on Iraq

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 7:17 PM EDT

SARAH PALIN ON IRAQ....I thought that maybe if I transcribed this podcast it would make more sense, but no dice. Here is Sarah Palin a couple of weeks ago talking about energy supplies and the war in Iraq:

The GOP agenda to ramp up domestic supplies of energy is the only way that we're going to become energy independent, the only way that we are going to become a more secure nation — and I say this, of course, looking at the situation we are in right now, at war, not knowing what the plan is to ever end the war that we're engaged in, understanding that Americans are seeking solutions, and they are seeking resolution in this war effort, so energy supplies, being able to produce and supply domestically, is going to be a big part of that.

....I have a 19 year old who's getting ready to be deployed to Iraq. His Stryker brigade will leave on September 11th of this year. He's 19, he'll be gone for a year. [And so] kind of on a personal level, when I talk about, umm, the plan for the war, you know, let's make sure we have a plan here, and respecting McCain's position on that.

So it turns out that not only does John McCain's running mate not have even the slightest background in foreign policy, but that she can't even talk about it coherently. McCain's handlers really have their work cut out for them.

And here, Matt Yglesias confirms that McCain had apparently met Palin exactly twice before today: once a few months ago when she came to Washington to talk about oil drilling and once more for five minutes via phone last Sunday. [UPDATE: Nope, three times! He also met with her briefly on Thursday morning before offering her the VP slot at 11 am.]

This is all part of what I was talking about the other day when I noted that McCain is running such a palpably unserious campaign. Steve Schmidt seems solely interested in winning the daily news cycle; his staff spends its time gleefully churning out juvenile attack videos; McCain himself has retreated into robotic incantations of simpleminded talking points; and now he's chosen a manifestly unqualified VP that he knows nothing about. I've honestly never seen anything like it.

But hey — as long as we're on the subject of unseriousness, I have to say that humorists sure do work fast these days. Within a couple of hours of Palin's announcement, we got Palin on the cover of Vogue (the real Vogue pictures are here) and Sarah Palin's blog. For more, ThinkProgress and Andrew Sullivan have both become 24/7 Palin trivia machines.

More Reaction to Palin

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 4:38 PM EDT

MORE REACTION TO PALIN....Noah Millman on Sarah Palin:

I realize, of course, that she's totally unqualified to be President at this point in time. If McCain were to die in February 2009, I hope Palin would have the good sense to appoint someone who is more ready to be President to be her Vice President, on the understanding that she would then resign and be appointed Vice President by her successor.

....What's the Vice Presidency for, anyhow? Arguably, it's not for anything at all....Palin fits a different model. She's not a President-in-waiting; she's a President-in-training. That's what Quayle was supposed to be, and to the extent he failed it was mostly because of his own personal qualities.

And this is from a guy who likes her! Jeebus.

Lessee. What else? Ramesh Ponnuru weighs in here. Andrew Sullivan has two letters from readers here and here. The second one echoes my reaction to McCain's body language while he was introducing Palin. McCain was obviously pleased at the idea of being a father figure to a young woman who would accept his lead without question and never challenge him. Elsewhere, Steve Doocy, who apparently read my joke earlier this morning, seriously suggests that living across the Bering Strait from Russia makes Palin a foreign policy expert. And Jon Chait notes that a couple of bloggers have already unearthed the fact that Palin supported Pat Buchanan in 2000:

Neither of them really dwells on the significance of this, so I wanted to back up for those who don't remember the circumstances of the time. This isn't like supporting Buchanan in the GOP primary. When Palin was supporting him, Buchanan was running as a third (actually, fourth) party insurgent, appealing to conservatives who thought George W. Bush was too moderate. This suggests that she's not just a run-of-the-mill movement conservative but a hard-core right-winger.

That's all for now. Conservatives on the tube are really, really struggling to defend this choice. I almost feel sorry for them. I'm sticking to my guns that before long this will be seen for the debacle it is.